Getz & Sauter x 2 Equals “Mickey One”

Getz Mickey One

MUSIC FROM THE SOUNDTRACK OF “MICKEY ONE” PLAYED BY STAN GETZ / SAUTER: Once Upon a Time (2 tk); Mickey’s Theme; Medley: On Stage, Mickey’s Flight, The Crushout (2 tks); Medley: Is There Any Word From the Lord?, Up From Limbo, If You Ever Need Me; The Succuba; Mickey Polka; Medley: Where I Live, The Apartment, Cleaning Up for Jenny, The Polish Landlady; Medley: I Put My Life in Your Hands, A Girl Named Jenny (2 tks); Medley: Yes, The Creature Machine, Guilty of Not Being Innocent, Touching in Love; Morning Ecstasy (Under the Scaffold) (2 tks); As Long As I Live; Is There Any Word From the Lord? So This is the Word (2 tks); Mickey’s Flight; Is There Any Word, Up From Limbo; Medley: (Going to) Who Owns Me, The Big Fight / Stan Getz, t-sax; Clark Terry, tp/fl-hn; Joe Ferrante, Bobby Nichols, Al DeRisi, tp; Eddie Bert, Sonny Russo, Johnny Messner, Ephaim Resick, tb; Tommy Mitchell, bs-tb; Jimmy Buffington, Richard Berg, Bob Abernathy, Ray Alonge, Earl Chapin, Fr-hn; Donald Ashworth, oboe; Al Block, pic/fl/cl/t-sax; Harvey Estrin, cl/fl/a-fl/pic/a-sax; Wally Kane, bsn/cl/bs-sax; Ray Shiner, E-hn/oboe/cl/t-sax; Charles Russo, woodwind; George Ockner, Herbert Baumel, John Pintavalle, Matthew Raimondi, David Nadien, Leon Cruczek, Charles Libove, Alan Martin, Norman Carr, Ed Simons, Dave Mankovitz, Bernard Eichen, Louis Gabowitz, vln; Julien Barber, Janet Simons, Leon Ferngut, Julius Shaler, vla; Charles McCracken, George Ricci, Harvey Shapiro, Bruce Rogers, cello; Laura Newell, harp; Roger Kellaway, pn; Barry Galbraith, gt; Richard Davis, bs; Harvey Phillips, tuba; Mel Lewis, dm; Joe Venuto, vib; Phil Kraus, Herbie Harris, Elden C. Bailey, Walter Rosenberg, perc. (1965) Verve 531 232-2

In the fall of 1967, as a senior in a Catholic high school, I was in the English class of one of the school’s lay teachers, “Mr. D.” (His last name was D’Antonio.) He was probably a Commie at heart since he assigned us Arthur Miller’s McCarthy-era play The Crucible to read and discuss in class and played us Hippie rock music about expanding your mind like Strawberry Alarm Clock’s Incense and Peppermints, but the real coup of my year with him was that he was somehow able to rent and play for the class Arthur Penn’s 1965 surrealist film, Mickey One. I had no idea at the time that it too symbolized the “Communist witch hunts” (that weren’t witch hunts at all, because most of the fish they fried were Communists and needed to be removed) by showing a man trapped in an atmosphere where he didn’t know where to turn or who he could trust. All I knew is that it was one of the most complex, strange and endlessly fascinating movies I had ever seen—and I am not, and have never been, much of a movie fan. In fact, I liked it so much that I begged my teacher to let me return during my free (study) period and watch it again, which he allowed me to do.

For the next 40 years, many scenes (and lines) from the movie were permanently etched into my brain: Mickey’s escape from Detroit on a boxcar, the “car crusher” in the junkyard lot, his reticent return to performing stand-up comedy under an assumed name, and especially the strange little Japanese junk man in his cart who kept appearing, smiling, and waving at Mickey as if he knew him. As soon as I learned that the movie had been released (finally!) to the public on DVD I bought a copy, and was amazed by how much I had retained in my mind (as well as a few lines and scenes I hadn’t recalled).

The music was also part of what I remembered, but only in snippets and fragments, as is the case with so much movie music both good and bad. Of course I knew who Stan Getz was, and I knew Eddie Sauter’s name as one of Benny Goodman’s arrangers in the early 1940s, but this wasn’t conventional big-band music or conventional film scoring. I was impressed by how well Getz played on it, but as I say, within the context of the film all we got were incomplete fragments. Here, on this “soundtrack” recording, what we really have are two different albums. Tracks 1-12 are the pieces Sauter wrote, played complete by the excellent studio orchestra (take a look at the personnel: there are a lot of ringers in there, including some former members of Glenn Miller’s Army Air Force Band), in fine stereo sound. The remainder of the album are those same tracks, cut up, truncated and mixed together in different patches, along with background noise and/or talking as they sounded on the actually soundtrack. Probably the most fascinating is track 13, Mickey’s Flight, which turns out to be the raw feed of Getz’s a cappella sax improvisations in takes 107 through 113(!) of the soundtrack. Some of these were eventually spliced together to form the three-way conversation Getz has with himself in the middle of track 3.

What impresses the listener today, particularly when one hears this music divorced from the film, is how hard Sauter worked to provide “standard” music for specific scenes (Mickey’s Polka, stand-up comedy intro music, and even a Salvation Army-type hymn for the scene where Mickey is hiding out in a storefront church) while still retaining enough creativity to produce original works of musical interest that could be slipped into the film. It is the latter that holds our attention here although Getz’ unflagging invention, including an unusual instance where he plays rock music, almost steals the show from the scoring. Getz was an oddity in the jazz world, a universally admired improviser who was also loved by a public who didn’t know he was one of the nastiest S.O.B.s who ever walked the planet. He was forever demanding favors of his contacts in the music world while granting none himself; he was a misogynist who refused to work with any female jazz musician (and walked off the bandstand if he saw one up there); and even tried to have Verve Records not pay Astrid Gilberto any royalties from her vocals on his bossa nova records.

Considering the task he was assigned to do, Sauter responded very well. Many of these pieces, once you get beyond those passages tailored to specific onscreen situations, are creative and ingenious. True, they have a closer kinship with pop music of the day than of ’60 experimental jazz, but as I say, they work extremely well both in and out of context, and Getz’ work is simply stupendous. I’m not sure he ever eclipsed this in any of his subsequent studio recordings.

The funny thing is, I honestly don’t recall seeing this album being sold in the stores. My guess is that it was issued in 1965 to capitalize on the release of Penn’s film, which garnered great critical acclaim, but when the movie bombed at the box office (many viewers simply didn’t get it) the soundtrack LP was probably allowed to perish in the catalogue. At least, that’s all I can think of. Yet despite its fragmented nature, it remains a fascinating and even mesmerizing listening experience; I would equate it to flipping up and down the AM dial on your car radio back in the 1960s, tuning in several different genres of pop music (including bossa nova, of course) over which Stan Getz is heard playing creative, imaginative solos. The important thing is not to ignore the musical context provided by Sauter, which I suppose I did as a 16-year-old. For collectors of jazz film scores, this was probably the last really great one in a string of such movies going back to such early-‘50s Hollywood products as Private Hell 36 (score by Leith Stevens) and Crime in the Streets (music by Franz Waxman). It’s really a shame that the movie bombed in the theaters, because it probably changed the course of the career of the film’s star, Warren Beatty, who came to national prominence in the garish but trashy flick Bonnie and Clyde. This one is highly recommended if you can find it.

— © 2016 Lynn René Bayley

Read my book: From Baroque to Bop and Beyond: An extended and detailed guide to the intersection of classical music and jazz OR

Check out The Penguin’s Girlfriend’s Guide to Classical Music

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Revisiting Eddie Sauter, 1957-58

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EDDIE SAUTER’S MUSIC TIME / BASIE-GREEN: High Tide. SAUTER: Superman. I. JONES: It Has to Be You. RODGERS-HART: My Funny Valentine. HILDINGER: Was ist Los in Baden-Oos. SOLAL: Dernière Minute* / band includes Rolf Schneebiegl, tp; Adi Feuerstein, fl; Hans Koller, cl/t-sax; Hans Hammerschmid, *Martial Solal, pn;  Rudi Flierl, bar-sax; Sperie Karas, dm. / HILDINGER: Kopf Hoch. BASIE: Easy Does It. LANE-HARBURG: Old Devil Moon+ SAUTER: Three on a Match / Schneebielg, Kurt Sauter, tp; Otto Bredl, tb; Koller, Don Rendell, Barney Wilen, t-sax; Hammerschmid, pn; Flierl, bar-sax; +Ritti Reys, voc.; others / HAMMERSCHMID: Street Market. LOESSER: Suddenly It’s Spring. HILDINGER: Little Girl in a Big City#; Reeperbahn#; Spook Walk. SAUTER: Hightor. HAMMERSCHMID: Port au Prince / Schneebielg, tp; Bredl, Albert Mangelsdorff, tb; Flierl, t-sax; Hammerschmid, pn; Attila Zoller, gt; Willie Sonner, bs; #Blanche Birdsong, voc; others / SWR Jazzhaus JAH-460 (live, 1957-58)

Eddie Sauter, once well known as one of the most innovative jazz composers and arrangers in the world, has for some reason fallen out of fashion and out of mind in recent decades. In part this was due to his strange career spiral after winning a Grammy for his string score behind tenor saxist Stan Getz on the album Focus; all that followed were a pretty good score for the 1965 Arthur Penn film, Mickey One, and a pretty awful “concerto” for Getz and the Boston Pops Orchestra three years later. Perhaps the poor popular and critical reaction to the Getz concerto, which he scrambled to revise, put a lid on Sauter’s career, but in any case he never really recovered from it and died in 1981 at the age of 67.

Sauter’s behind-the-scenes work as arranger-composer for the big bands of Red Norvo (1936-39), Benny Goodman (1939-44), Artie Shaw (1945) and Ray McKinley (1946-49), in addition to independent work for jazz singer Mildred Bailey (1939-1945), was well known and respected by his jazz peers but not well known to the general public. In 1952 he co-founded a big band, initially for recording purposes only but eventually for touring and TV appearances, with former Tommy Dorsey and Glenn Miller arranger Bill Finegan, whose name and work were much better known to audiences. The Sauter-Finegan Orchestra scored a few big hit early on (most notably Doodletown Fifers, Nina Never Knew, The Moon is Blue and Rain) but then moved into more complex realms as the two leaders flexed their composing and arranging muscles. The band never quite reclaimed its initial impact as a favorite of “bachelor pad” hi-fis, and by 1956 faded from view as Sauter and Finegan filed for bankruptcy. After they formally disbanded in March 1957, Sauter accepted an invitation to travel to Kommingen, Germany, on the edge of the Black Forest, to assume leadership of the Südwestfunk big band from Kurt Edelhagen. This is where the first tracks of this CD, recorded live in December 1957, pick up the story.

Despite performing with the band at the October 1957 Kommingen Jazz Festival and scoring an impressive success there with his scores Kinetic Energy and Tropic of Kommingen,, Sauter was apparently never very comfortable leading this band of German musicians. Much of the problem can be heard in the second track on this album, his 1940 score of Superman for trumpeter Cootie Williams and the Goodman band. On the original recording, Williams—the “superman” of the title—gets the lion’s share of solo space, swinging mightily and employing the famed growl technique he perfected with Duke Ellington. The Goodman band also swings mightily behind him, propelled by the great rhythm section of pianist Fletcher Henderson, bassist Artie Bernstein and drummer Harry Jaeger. Here, Williams’ part is given to trumpeter Rolf Schneebiegl who, whatever his technical prowess, simply doesn’t swing like an American—and neither does the band. This was, probably, the source of some of Sauter’s frustration with this group.

As a result, he turned over much of the arranging duties to others, particularly Hans Koller (High Tide, Easy Does It), Dave Hildinger (My Funny Valentine, Was ist Los in Baden-Oos, Kopfhoch, Suddenly It’s Spring, Little Girl in a Big City, Reeperbahn and Spook Walk) and Hans Hammerschmid (Street Market, Port au Prince) with one track (Dernière Minute) written by and featuring the great French pianist, Martial Solal. This was not altogether a bad thing, as the musicians were more comfortable playing their less “freaky” scores. One should take this into consideration, however, in judging the work of this band at this particular period.

Indeed, Koller’s arrangement of Count Basie’s High Tide has the feel of some of Sy Oliver’s 1940s arrangements for Tommy Dorsey, with a “heavy” sax sound, anchored by the baritone, playing against high winds and brass, but modified to make it more ‘50s-ish. And here, lo and behold, the band sounds loose and relaxed, falling into a nice groove with tasteful solos—particularly the trumpet, flute and bass—that enhance the arranger’s concept. Since I’ve already commented on Superman, let us move on to It Has to Be You. This is a Sauter score and a superb one, with his patented use of inverted chord positions that he uses as pivot-points for key changes, some in the middle of a bar and quite unexpected. There’s one chromatic change upward at about 1:48 that will stun you, only to change again around 2:18, and again the band is loose and responsive to his work. Curiously, Hildinger’s arrangement of My Funny Valentine falls into a Sauter-ish vein, reminding me of Eddie’s scores for Norvo (Remember), Goodman (More Than You Know) and Shaw (Summertime), albeit less “busy” in the subsidiary figures. I also noted that some of the voicings were borrowed from the work that Sauter-Finegan had already laid out on disc.

Dave Hildiger’s Was ist Los in Baden-Oos, though more conventionally scored in an almost Basie-band manner, contains some Sauter-Finegan features such as the vibes playing very high up along with the staccato trumpet interjections. Yet it’s the solos by Rudi Flierl on baritone sax and Koller on tenor that provide most of the interest. Dernière Minute, though too brief (2:20), presents an entirely different vibe, its rhythmically conventional score enlivened by Solal’s interesting harmonic changes as well as his highly inventive and swinging solo.

The next set, from January 1958, kicks off with Hildinger’s Kopf Hoch, another combination of Basie’s “atomic band” style with a few Sauter-Finegan touches. This one isn’t really much of a tune, either, just a few little licks before the soloists are off and running. Here the band includes the fine trombonist Otto Bredl in addition to Koller. There’s not much of a tune in Basie’s Easy Does It, either, but Heinz Kiessling’s arrangement of Old Devil Moon is quite good, including a fine vocal by Ritti Reys, a singer previously unknown to me. The band gets back into high gear with another Sauter original, Three on a Match, which sounds to me based on Baubles, Bangles and Beads. The centerpiece of this one is the fantastic tenor sax playing of Don Rendell and Barney Wilen.

The last set, from later that same January, kicks off with Hans Hammerschmid’s Street Market. This one is highlighted by Hammerschmid’s piano and a flute solo, possibly by Flierl (the soloist is not identified). Hildinger’s airy, imaginative chart of Suddenly It’s Spring is more creative, with tasty solos by Schneebiegl and Flierl enhancing the whole. Little Girl in a Big City is also imaginative, and very much in the Sauter-Finegan vein with high vibes and trumpet and an eerie, wordless vocal by one Blanche Birdsong (no, I’m not making it up, though she probably did!), sounding almost like a Theremin. This is certainly one of the highlights of the set. Sauter’s own Hightor, ironically, looks backwards in style rather than forwards, though it is a good piece. Hildinger’s Reeperbahn has more of the tone of a mysterious, sexy suburb than the grimy, dirty cesspool it really was, and again Birdsong returns for a wordless vocal. I checked online, but the only reference I could find to her was that she appears on a 1965 album by Jonny Teupen, “Love and Harp à la Latin.” Don’t ask me!

Hammerschmid’s Port au Prince is a Latin sort of cha-cha that swings nicely with solos by Flierl and Schneebiegl. The album concludes with Hildinger’s Spook Walk, featuring a trombone solo by special guest Albert Mangelsdorff. It’s a curious piece, slow and loping with unusual chord progressions, but very effective in its own way.

[Addendum, August 7: I just discovered, two days ago, that there is an alternate “online edition of this album that includes 5 bonus tracks: Zoller’s Blues for Al, Heinz Kiessling’s elegant and beautiful arrangement of Polka Dots and Moonbeams (with a nice vocal by Ritti Reys), Wolfgang Forster’s interesting chart of A Night in Tunisia, an unidentified arranger’s version of Bags’ Groove and a Sauter arrangement of Cherokee. Ironically, I found the Cherokee arrangement to be the weakest because it sounds the most like the Sauter-Finegan band’s hit records, i.e., lots of chirpy winds and such effects and not much substance, but the others are excellent.]

All in all, this slice of Sauter’s career is interesting and well worth investigating despite two or three fairly conventional pieces. There’s so little of him available post-Sauter-Finegan that almost anything he did up through the mid-sixties is worth hearing. And now, check out my review of Sauter’s music for Mickey One starring Stan Getz.

— © 2016 Lynn René Bayley

Read my book, From Baroque to Bop and Beyond: An extended and detailed history of the intersection of classical music and jazz OR

Check out The Penguin’s Girlfriend’s Guide to Classical Music

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The New Busch Trio Nails Dvořák

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DVOŘÁK: Piano Trios Nos. 3 & 4 / Busch Trio / Alpha 238

Although I admit that it’s very hard to play these superb trios by Antonin Dvořák badly—unless, I suppose, you really have no musical sense at all—it is not always easy for modern chamber groups to get into them as well as the Busch Trio does here. Indeed, the only other recording of these works I’ve heard that are as good as these are the ones by the equally wonderful Trio Solisti on Bridge 9393. At first hearing, it seemed to me that where Trio Solisti played with more “Romantic” touches—i.e., rubato, rallentando, etc.—the Busch Trio played in a more direct fashion, but as the performances progressed I realized that my ears were deceiving me. In fact, the Busch Trio takes these works at a consistently slower pace than Trio Solisti, as the following track-by-track timing comparisons will show:

Trio 3: 14:00/12:45, 6:08/6:01, 10:07/9:45, 10:27/9:46

Trio 4: 5:05/4:28, 7:42/7:36, 7:22/6:10, 6:39/4:51, 4:12/4:09, 4:59/4:41

So what’s the difference? Doing an A-B comparison, I discovered that Trio Solisti played with a richer tone in the strings whereas the Busch Trio played with a leaner sound. Also, in movements where Trio Solisti did indeed introduce slight tempo modifications, the Busch Trio played the music “straighter” but also slower. This allows the listener to “catch up” with the many and varied chord changes and musical developments in each movement a bit easier, but no less dynamically or excitingly. These are, quit simply, stupendous performances (like Trio Solisti’s) of almost overwhelming emotional power.

The other difference, which makes sense when you consider the trio’s namesake, violinist Adolf Busch, is that the string players here use a leaner, faster vibrato. This is one of the things that creates the illusion of quickness when in fact the tempos are quite moderate. For those who don’t know him at all, and I’ll bet there are millions who have never heard him play, Adolf Busch (1891-1952) was the leader of a famed string quartet in Germany who, like his conductor-brother Fritz, fled Germany after the Nazis assumed power in 1933. Adolf Busch’s own sound was extremely lean, at times almost vibratoless as per our modern-day HIP movement, which sometimes gave his violin an almost whiny quality on the old 78-rpm records. In 1939, following the Nazi invasion of Austria the previous year, Adolf Busch relocated to Switzerland where, among other activities, he worked as first violinist in the newly-formed Lucerne Festival Orchestra which, like the Palestine Symphony, was made up of refugee artists from Nazi-occupied territories.

This trio consists of Mathieu van Bellen, who gave the trio its name because he plays Adolf Busch’s own 1783 Guadagnini violin, cellist Ori Epstein and pianist Omri Epstein. The group members were all trained initially as soloists in Great Britain in 2002, formed the trio as a professional unit in 2012, was mentored by Chamber Studio in 2014 (where they met Eberhard Feltz and András Schiff), and became Artists-in-Residence at the Queen Elizabeth Music Chapel in 2015.

Busch’s own playing, like van Bellen’s, was characterized by a resolutely modern sound and approach to the old Romantic repertoire. Busch used portamento, which was considered a sign of cultivated playing, very sparsely. On these performances, van Bellen uses a downward portamento at 8:50 in the last movement of Trio No. 3 and 4:02 in the fourth movement of Trio No. 4, but not much elsewhere. Cellist Ori Epstein uses a lighter, subtler portamento just as sparingly. If I had to point to one feature of this trio that is more “Romantic” than Trio Solisti, it would be the warmer, more relaxed playing of pianist Omri Epstein. He’s a bit more like Arthur Rubinstein than like most other modern chamber pianists, Trio Solisti’s Jon Klibonoff among them. Epstein’s warm, rich tone and fluid phrasing offset the leaner musical approach of the strings in an interesting and arresting manner.

Of the two trios on this disc, I felt that the six-movement “Dumky” trio (No. 4) came off somewhat less dynamically than No. 3. Here, the group’s slower tempi allowed the structure to relax a bit more than it should. Individual movements were extremely beautiful, thus I wouldn’t like to criticize their approach too harshly, but I personally preferred the tauter approach of Trio Solisti. Otherwise, it’s an outstanding disc and highly recommended.

This is the first issue of what Alpha promises to be Dvořák’s complete piano trios, quartets and quintets. I wasn’t sure if the future releases would be played by an augmented Busch Trio or by some other chamber group(s), but happily Omri Epstein sent me an email and confirmed that it would indeed be they who complete the project…so stay tuned!

— © 2016 Lynn René Bayley

Read The Penguin’s Girlfriend’s Guide to Classical Music (a work-in-progress) OR

From Baroque to Bop and Beyond: An extended and detailed guide to the intersection of classical music and jazz

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Fred Hersch Back at the Vanguard

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SUNDAY NIGHT AT THE VANGUARD / RODGERS-HAMMERSTEIN: A Cockeyed Optimist. HERSCH: Serpentine; The Optimum Thing; Calligram; Blackwing Palomino; Valentine. McCARTNEY: For No One. WHEELER: Everybody’s Song But My Own. ROWLES: The Peacocks. MONK: We See / Fred Hersch Trio: Hersch, piano; John Hébert, bass; Eric McPherson, drums / Palmetto Records PM 2183 (live: March 27, 2016)

I laughed a bit at the press release accompanying this CD, which said that “Jazz is too often portrayed as…defined by blazing young artists. But there’s…a vanguard of players and composers who continue to refine and expand the art form in middle age and beyond, like Wayne Shorter, Chick Corea, Henry Threadgill, and piano maestro Fred Hersch, who is marking his 60th year with an astonishing creative surge.” I laughed not because I disagreed with it—I don’t—but in irony because I know several astonishingly creative jazz veterans whose names aren’t Shorter, Corea, Threadgill or Hersch who can’t get into prestigious rooms like the Vanguard unless they make table reservations like everyone else. Anyone out there have weeklong gigs available for Jack Walrath? The Turtle Island String Quartet? Byron Olsen? Jack Reilly?

Cincinnati native Fred Hersch left Grinnell College in Iowa to play jazz in his home town along with local pianists who already had gigs locked up there, like Steve Schmidt, Phil DeGreg and my own personal favorite of the 1980s, Ken Kresge. The difference is that Schmidt and DeGreg are still here whereas both Hersch and Kresge have moved on. Hersch’s breakthrough year was 1981, when he played with Art Farmer in 1978 and again in 1981, also playing at the Kool Jazz Festival (now, alas, renamed the Kool Festival and having nothing at all to do with jazz) in the latter year. He has since catapulted to fame, has been a faculty member at the New England Conservatory of Music on and off since 1980, and was the first solo pianist to play week-long gigs at the famed Village Vanguard in New York, where this set was recorded.

Judging by this recording, Hersch is a pianist in the tradition of one of the Vanguard’s most storied residents, Bill Evans, with touches of Lennie Tristano, Chick Corea and Keith Jarrett. He plays with a light touch, light swing and rich chord positions to create a warm ambience. His bassist, John Hebert, plays lightly in the background, supporting Hersch with sensitivity and good taste. Drummer McPherson is very interesting, creating cross-currents behind Hersch and Hebert and propelling the music with a predominant use of the snares and cymbals. On the opening track, for instance, once Hersch moves into the improvisation, Hebert becomes more animated whereas McPherson remains as animated as before, but the constant time-fractioning of the drums draws interest. Hersch also uses more time-fractioning here than Evans was wont to do, only returning to a steadier pulse for the ride-out.

Serpentine, one of five Hersch originals on this disc, also has a Bill Evans-ish feel to it, particularly in the modal construction of the initial theme. I found it interesting that, no matter what the pulse played by the other two, McPherson generally continues his drumming in the same vein. There is a certain classical bent to this track, not merely in the theme but in the style of the improvisation in which Hersch utilizes a wide range of classical techniques including triplets, trills, and double-time runs, all of them played in a “pure” piano style not that far removed from many classical pianists. In fact, the heavily involved and ornate development section proves to be one of the real highlights of this disc, so complex and involved is it. When Hebert begins his solo at 4:22, it is also curiously classical in feel, using a light, almost vibratoless tone and tending towards the high range of his instrument. During his solo, both Hersch and McPherson fall silent, at least for a time.When the drummer re-enters behind him, it is now in the form of very light snare and tom-tom taps. At one point in his solo, Hebert almost seems to be using a Spanish beat, following which a cymbal washfrom McPherson reintroduces the leader on piano.

The Optimum Thing, another original, is much jazzier and more upbeat. One might be tempted to say that it has an almost Monk-like feel to it, with its quirky single-note melodic structure, but I also heard it somewhat related to the work of Tristano or even Herbie Nichols. In both this and the preceding piece, Hersch eschews the use of the left hand almost entirely in terms of chording to employ a single-note style, here more jazz than classical in orientation. By the time we reach the three-minute mark, it is clear that Hersch is using both hands to play against each other to create a jazz fugue, which slowly accelerates in tempo until it fairly overwhelms the listener—at which point he cuts back on the complexity and just swings with the right hand. In this piece, McPherson is less complex in rhythm, generally employing a steadier beat or at least a more generally propulsive one.

Calligram is one of those medium-tempo swingers that has all but disappeared from jazz, with a “walking” beat played by the bass as an introduction. When Hersch enters here, he is playing a fragmented melody that sounds very much like the kind of thing Evans used to play with George Russell, except that it is more cryptic and less completely filled out. Both bassist and drummer suddenly double the time around 1:50, at which point Hersch becomes quieter at the start of his improv. Before long, it has become a three-way “trialogue” with the musicians in the trio all contributing to the evolving structure, which now becomes strongly bitonal, almost Tristano-esque. By the 4:30 mark, the cross-rhythms created by the three have become so complex that only the leader’s piano seems to be on a steady rhythm—and then, it suddenly ends.

Blackwing Palomino seems to combine the features of the previous two works, being somewhat straightforward and swinging while maintaining the feeling of “speaking” in minimal, incomplete musical sentences. The middle section, on the other hand, is straightforward swinging, not very far-out at all despite the use of some off-kilter triplets here and there. The trio’s wonderful unity of thought and feeling is evident throughout. Paul McCartney’s For No One is an unusual nod to a traditional pop tune writer, though played in a soft, Bill Evans style. Here McPherson stick to the brushes for much of the tune and Hebert’s own playing is minimal and delicate. This is Hersch’s showcase, and is followed by Kenny Wheeler’s Everybody’s Song But My Own in which the trio adopts a Latin beat and works through it in an almost minimalist fashion. The tune is reduced to its basic building blocks before reassembling them in Hersch’s own manner which eventually leads to greater rhythmic complexity.

The Peacocks is another strange piece, starting out in a strictly classical vein as a series of sprinkled notes followed by right-hand tremolos balanced by tremolos in the left hand. One can’t exactly call it Debussy-ish, however, because it bears a closer resemblance to the music of Granados or Albeniz, at least before settling down to a more conventional (albeit bitonal) melody with variants. Once again, Hebert plays lightly and McPherson is on brushes. I found this particular piece endlessly fascinating and almost sui generis; in the end, the music didn’t really sound like the work of anyone else but Fred Hersch, particularly when he adopts a definitely jazzy beat at 6:40 into the piece before returning to the more classical feel. Hersch also completely restrcutures Thelonious Monk’s We See in his own Evans-ish/classical vein, turning it into a series of countermelodies and restructurings of elements within the tune. Near the end, I had the odd feeling that Tristano, Hersch and Monk were playing all at the same time. Both Hebert and McPherson stay busy here.

As an encore to this set, Hersch plays his own piece Valentine, another soft, Evans-ish composition, and does so beautifully. This is a completely solo piece, no bass or drums, and leaves the listener with a feeling of a goodnight hug. All in all, a splendid album with many highlights.

— © 2016 Lynn René Bayley

Read my book: From Baroque to Bop and Beyond: An extended and detailed guide to the intersection of jazz and classical music OR

Try The Penguin’s Girlfriend’s Guide to Classical Music!

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Maag’s 1959 “Figaro” Beats Them All

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MOZART: Le Nozze di Figaro / Heinz Blankenburg, baritone (Figaro); Rita Streich, soprano (Susanna); Bianca Maria Casoni, mezzo-soprano (Cherubino); Vito Susca, bass (Dr. Bartolo); Nicola Monti, tenor (Don Basilio); Renato Cesari, baritone (Count Almaviva); Marcella Pobbe, soprano (Countess); Fernanda Cadoni, mezzo (Marcellina); Amilcare Blaffard, tenor (Don Curzio); Elvina Ramella, soprano (Barbarina); Leonardo Monreale, tenor (Gardener); Nelly Pucci, Vera Presti, sopranos (Two peasants); Chorus of Teatro San Carlo, Naples; Orchestra “Alessandro Scarlatti” di Napoli alla RAI; Peter Maag, conductor / Arts Archives 43070-2 (live: September 22, 1959, Naples)

Arturo Toscanini, after seeing a performance of Le Nozze di Figaro, reportedly said, “Is all very beautiful, but where is the sunshine?,” as a reference to Rossini’s Il Barbiere di Siviglia.

This performance has plenty of Italian sunshine. And moonshine. And all kinds of shine. In fact, it is without a doubt the most effervescent performance of this opera I’ve evr heard. The whole thing absolutely sizzles from start to finish, the singing and the conducting, but especially the incendiary playing of that small orchestra as led by Peter Maag. This is Mozart on steroids, a Nozze di Figaro to beat all comers. But why have we never heard of it?

Search as you will through the internet, you will not find a single review of this recording from any of the “leading” review publications. Certainly not Gramophone or BBC Music, who are still under the spell of John Eliot Gardiner, Theodor Currentzis and René Jacobs, all well-intentioned also-rans, but also neither at Classics Today, Fanfare or American Record Guide. Despite the fact that this recording was issued in April 2007, it has effectively been buried so deeply into a hole that it would probably take your local city sewer district to dig it up. It is a “non-recording,” one that no one listens to or takes seriously except for one reviewer, Christopher Howell at Music Web International. He is the only one who recognized its greatness and said so online.

And why is that? Well, because the label that issued it, Arts Archives, is about as big as your next-door-neighbor’s bootleg CDs of his nephew’s wedding. Until Naxos picked it up for distribution, it has not just flown under the radar but under the plane when it’s on the ground, and because it is an “older” recording they’re not really pushing it very hard. So it continues to languish in no-man’s-land where its brilliance sparkles in a vacuum.

Poor Nozze! Poor Peter Maag! And poor us, for not knowing this spectacular recording. If I hadn’t tripped across it on the Naxos Music Library, I’d still be in the dark like all of you. But allow me to sing its praises, and give you three or four good reasons why you need to own it.

#1: Despite its age (September 1959) it’s in stereo, and surprisingly good stereo at that. I wouldn’t have believed that the Italians, of all people, actually did such outstanding experimentation in live stereo broadcasts at this early a date; certainly, none of the Maria Callas or Anita Cerquetti broadcasts I’ve heard of the same vintage have been in stereo, and certainly nothing as spectacular as this. There is a real “spread” to the sound, following the singers as they moved about and sang, which all comes across as totally natural, and the orchestra always remains clear and sharply-etched no matter what.

#2: This may very well be Peter Maag’s finest three hours of his career. Using a small orchestra, he further refined its sound so that the winds were prominent and “buzzy” in the now-accepted “historically-informed” manner, but without burying the strings as so many HIP performances do. He was able to achieve this by having the strings play with a fast, tight vibrato but NOT with straight tone, which is ahistorical and flat-out wrong. Throughout the performance, he only resorts to more traditional, slower tempos in two instances, Susanna’s aria “Deh vieni, non tardar” and the final denouement when the Count recognizes the Countess, “Contessa, perdono.” I don’t mind it at all in the latter case—in fact, if you take that music too quickly it loses its impact and its ability to catch you by surprise and make you cry (it ALWAYS makes me cry, every time I hear it), but in the former case he really should have picked up the pace a little.

#3: Though not an “all-star cast,” this is a superb ensemble of committed artists who give their absolute best and come up shining. The only three famous names are those of Rita Streich, Marcella Pobbe and Nicola Monti, who I’m sure took the role of Don Basilio as a favor to Teatro San Carlo and conductor Maag—he was surely too big a name to do so otherwise, being more used to performing the leading bel canto roles with such singers as Callas. Pobbe had kind of an unusual voice: creamy in tone but with an Italianate vibrato and a very slight “whine,” like Ileana Cotrubas, but like Cotrubas she was an outstanding musician and interpreter. I’ve heard at least a dozen star sopranos sing “Porgi amor” with a more gorgeous tone than Pobbe, but not one who intrprets the words and touches the heart the way she does.

#4: There are absolutely no “let-down” moments in this performance. Even the secondary arias, such as the Count’s “Hai già vinta la causa” and Figaro’s “Aprite un po’ quegl’occhi,” sudden;y become highlights not only because of the lively singing but because the orchestra is constantly in there pitching, laughing and/or mocking the characters in their comic adventures in every phrase and scene. Moreover, because most of the cast are native-born Italians, the recitatives also sizzle. They move quickly and deftly, rattling off the tongues of the singers the way Rossini’s recitatives did in the famous and venerable 1929 recording of Il Barbiere di Siviglia. Sunshine, indeed!

As for the singers you haven’t heard of, a few notes are in order. American baritone Heinz Blankenburg (b. 1931) apparently spent most of his career in Europe, particularly in Hamburg where he was one of the very few foreigners named “Kammersinger.” Critic Andrew Porter once described him in The New Yorker as “someone whose performances are to be collected and prized,” but his only commercial recording—until this Figaro was released—seems to have been as Masetto in Erich Leinsdorf’s Don Giovanni. In his online review, Howell pointed out that “a DVD seems to exist of a 1967 Hamburg Figaro, which may be sung in German.” Baritone Renato Cesari, our Count Almaviva, is a wonderful singer with a bright voice who sang Sharpless in Anna Moffo’s recording of Madama Butterfly. Vito Susca, though not prodigious of voice, has a fine basso buffo which he uses to great advantage in Dr. Bartolo’s “La vendetta.” Our Cherubino is Bianca Maria Casoni (b. 1932) who later went on to sing Charlotte in Werther, among other roles. She has a rich voice with an appropriately androgynous sound, perfect for the role, and sings with great sensitivity and expression.

But this is a true ensemble performance, of the sort that is common now but not then, when the “star system” determined what gold-plated voices would be singing, and that makes all the difference in the world. Everyone works as a unit towards the presentation of this comic masterpiece to the best of their individual and collective abilities, with the result that the sum is greater than the whole of the parts.

The only cut in the score is Marcellina’s aria. Howell assumes that it was cut because its technical pyrotechnics were beyond the singer used here, Fernanda Cadoni, but my own opinion is that neither Cadoni nor Maag felt that the aria was appropriate to the character. After all, Marcellina is a rather mature woman who turns out to be Figaro’s mother, and casting a ripe-sounding mezzo in the part is dramatically correct. In the famous Erich Kleiber recording, it was sung by Susanna, but it holds up the action, doesn’t contribute to the unfolding comedy, and simply doesn’t suit the character.

In short, then, this is not only a superb performance of Figaro but in my view a “desert island” choice for the opera. There are two selections in the last act where the sound seems to “phase” a little (meaning that there are moments where one channel or the other sounds less full in volume than the other), but aside from that there are no deficiencies in sound as there are no deficiencies in the performance. If you like this opera, you need to own this recording!

— © 2016 Lynn René Bayley

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Remembering Leif Segerstam in the 1970s

Long before conductor-composer Leif Segerstam looked like this:

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He looked like this:

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and I know, because I saw him twice in the 1970s and can attest to that.

He was also, even then—perhaps more so, then—looked upon as a radical and, for some critics and listeners, an impossible-to-understand composer. His music seemed to be all over the place, particularly in its rhythm, which was so fluid that even the composer himself referred to it as his “free pulsative” style, but it was the lack of focus (or so it seemed to inattentive listeners) in its structure and development that turned many people off. I, on the other hand, loved it, particularly the chamber music which was what was first imported to New York record stores in the early ‘70s. My particular favorites were A Nnnnooooowww for Woodwind Quintet (1973) and the incredibly freaky String Quartet No. 6 (1974), with its final movement played “in the spirit of Gustav Mahler,” and not just symbolically: performances of this work (especially on the Bis recording) always featured a ghostly figure made of chicken wire and paper-maché who sat at a piano , silently, until near the end of the last movement when the first violinist is requested to back up on the stage and “help” the ghost of Mahler play a contrabass low A on the piano.

Oh, you don’t believe me? Here’s a photo of violinist Segerstam doing just that:

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This, then, was a musician who operated outside the mainstream. Just how far outside I didn’t realize at the time since, as I mentioned, his recordings were hard to find even at Joseph Patelson’s Music House just down the street from Carnegie Hall, which also sold some of his scores. And what scores they were! Here’s a page from that same string quartet:

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What attracted me to the music of Segerstam, and still does today, is the remarkable feeling and passion in his work. Say what you want of his music, it is not cold and indifferent as in the case of most modern works. Take A Nnnnooooowww, for instance. I think it’s rather hard to find nowadays, although Presto Classical seems to be offering the album (titled Finnish Wind Music and including works by other composers) for download. The wind instruments in this strange work cry and whimper like some wounded alien birds from Alpha Centauri. Definitely not your father’s classical wind music! And that last movement of the String Quartet No. 6 is best listened to in the dark, with the lights out, letting the slow yet weirdly glowing music to wash over you. By the time the last notes die away, you will discover that it is an experience you will never forget.

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The Segerstam Quartet circa 1973, Hannele Segerstam on the left.

Indeed, though he has continued to record his own works, the Segerstam of the modern era is known much more as a conductor of others’ music, and to me this is a shame. Of course, much of this is due to the difficulty of his music: atonal yet charged with emotion, and in many cases Segerstam not only encourages but demands spontaneous choices of his musicians. When I was younger, I thought this entailed improvisation, particularly since he played his Rituals in La with Lasse Werner who was a jazz pianist, but in most cases this involves “choosing” different development sections and/or mixing and matching his separate themes in different ways. Thus, for instance, in his String Quartet No. 7, the players are asked to choose the themes of the last movement in a different order each time they perform it. Things like this have driven both performers and critics crazy trying to make sense of his fluid, fluctuating, “free-pulsative” scores.

But who exactly is this man, other than the Brahms-like figure with the white beard who now waves his arms at orchestras like an inspired madman? Born in 1944, he studied violin, piano, composition and conducting at the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki. receiving his diploma in violin and conducting. In 1962 he won the Maj Lind piano competition and made his debut as a violinist that same year, continuing his studies at Juilliard in 1963, where he studied conducting with Jean Paul Morel and violin with Louis Persinger—yes, the same Louis Persinger who had taught Yehudi Menuhin! After earning his conducting diploma in 1964 and his post-graduate diploma in 1965, Segerstam returned to Finland where he led the Finnish National Opera for three years. During this time he was also a guest conductor with numerous Finnish orchestras as well as touring with the Finnish Ballet. He became a conductor at the Stockholm Royal Opera in 1968, where he was appointed principal conductor in 1970 and Music Director in 1971. He also conducted opera in Berlin and, in 1973-74, was general manager of the Finnish National Opera.

Oh, yes…in 1969 he also conducted a performance (I know not of what) with the Swedish rock band, the Mecki Mark Men. Here’s the picture to prove it:

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So Segerstam was pretty strange even early on, but it wasn’t until I read some of his comments—about his own music and comments to orchestras in rehearsal—that I realized just how strange. I guess the bottom line is that he was just as odd as his music. Here, for instance, are his comments on A Nnnnooooowww:

This music of mine speaks for itself and it speaks out of its performers, in their chain of motivations for their utterances in sound of their music-making—NNNNOOOOOWWWs when the music actually iiiiiiiiiiis. How was it, and what was it, now,?   This time     ? Please reset yourself to positive zero before you listen to my piece!

Or these notes to his String Quartet No. 7:

I felt it was an espressivo-music, mostly even semprei espressivo possible…! the roots are in the expressionism of my previous quartets (Nos. 4, 5 & 6) and later chamber music…Because of the Free-pulsativity this work always makes its own new form so it was worth to be pushed through so demandingly as the music-making felt to have to been done this time: The struggle towards the crashes after the almost “Beethovenia!” trials to find an outlet and ending of the first movement…PLEASE SHARE SOME OF THE STRAIN IN DECIDING ABOUT ENDINGS BY DECIDING YOURSELF YOUR OWN END-VERSION. Our end-version was ABBABAAB!

This isn’t exactly Igor Stravinsky, talking calmly and rationally about his scores. This is a guy who gets REALLY wrapped up in his music, and to a certain extent in others’ music. Here are some of his comments made to orchestras in rehearsals:

Could we have a relatively normal beginning?
Like an old-time Western locomotive, we can get the organity of the puffing…
The string section without the basses is a plasmatic living cluster.
A sort of indignated way of playing before the “la minore” explosion.
Was this a conspiration to read my beat?
Just play in your box until you come to the climax…so that we can hear the clappering.
The quintuplet should be freshly and rudely the same as the triplet.
Something is satelliting out of the control of the beated music.
I have words for everything that can be expressed: Coincidentimently, Emryomalic, Electrifically, Fiveishness, Flimmer, Inexclickable, Fengurish five things, I am fluxating in 8.
Please don’t play sloppy dactyls that they don’t know what it is.
You haven’t experienced it because nobody is doing it.
You don’t need to count here. You won’t get lost because at the end I will turn and look at you stoppingly!
Keep the fermata of the rest interesting.
Wait for the Puccini bit in four and make like the diva.
We will enter in the right times, so the shortening is to the left.
Native folkloric haemiolas that you should have in your Mahler blood.
There are people swallowing time.
Watch it! My left hand is looking at you!

I saw Segerstam conduct in person twice. The first was a performance of La Bohème at the Metropolitan Opera on March 9, 1974, a cast which included Teresa Zylis-Gara as Mimi, Edda Moser as Musetta, Luciano Pavarotti as Rodolfo and Mario Sereni as Marcello. His tempos were on the slow side (as they still are, in others’ music, today) but his musical line achingly beautiful, with an almost unbelievable transparency of texture and a way of making the music “float.” I was so impressed by his performance that, afterwards backstage, I waited for him to get his autograph on my program. He was shocked. “You must have me confused with someone else,” he said. “I’m just the conductor!” “I know you’re the conductor,” I said. “Your performance was exquisitely beautiful.” “Oh! Thank you! In that case, I will happily sign your program!” he said. And he did.

The second time was after I had moved out to Ohio, a performance with the Cincinnati Symphony on November 10, 1978. One of the pieces on the program was his own wonderful Sketches From “Pandora,” a performance so good that it easily surpassed his studio recording of the same work. Afterwards I talked to some of the orchestra musicians, who told me that they enjoyed working with him because he knew his music but found him “a little weird.” After having learned of the strange things he says in rehearsals, I now know why.

The reader should not come to the conclusion that I am poking fun at Segerstam. On the contrary, I have the highest respect for him, and still manage to occasionally follow his career through recordings. Among my favorites are his set of the Sibelius Symphonies and Berg’s Wozzeck. As of this writing, he is scheduled to release a set of recordings juxtaposing his own symphonies (some of them, anyway…he’s written over 300!) with the four symphonies of Brahms. He remains a fine musician, no question about it, but for me, personally, there was something exciting about discovering him for the first time and being part of a “secret clubhouse,” one of a select few people who “got” Leif Segerstam. He remains one of the great musical experiences of my life.

— © 2016 Lynn René Bayley

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Rich Halley’s “Outlier” Great, Creative Jazz

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RICH HALLEY 5: THE OUTLIER / HALLEY: Recipe for Improvisers; Urban Crunch; Green Needles; Du Fu’s Stew; Rising From the Plains; Reciprocity; The Nuthatches. R. HALLEY-GOLIA-VLATKOVICH-REED-C. HALLEY: Around the Fringes; Long Blue Road; The Way Through / Rich Halley, t-sax; Vinny Golia, bar-sax/bs-cl; Michael Vlatkovich, tb; Clyde Reed, bass; Carson Halley, drums / Pine Eagle 009

This, tenor saxist Rich Halley’s latest album is his 20th and the first to feature five players instead of four. The new addition is baritone saxist and bass clarinetist Vinny Golia, whose instruments add extra color to the ensemble, but this would be for naught were the compositions less arresting. Halley has not only the gift of improvisation but also the good taste to write music that is highly original and structured, reaching backwards (as so many young and not-so-young jazz musicians are doing nowadays) to the age of Mingus and George Russell.

To that mix I would also add the much lesser-known name of Rod Levitt, the trombonist-composer-leader whose four albums in the mid-1960s (one for Riverside, the other three for RCA) have become cult classics among jazz musicians, particularly jazz composers. Particularly the opening track, Recipe for Improvisers, is so Levitt-influenced that I would have sworn I was listening to an out-take from one of his recordings. This is not to denigrate Halley or his musicians, but rather to compliment them. Even if the Levitt influence is accidental it is there if at a second-hand remove, though so too is a bit of mid-‘60s Sonny Rollins (particularly in Halley’s powerful and highly inventive solo work). He also takes a cue from Mingus in his construction of pieces with alternating tempo sections, which sound at first simply as extensions of the main theme but are in fact building blocks that move the music into different themes or developments of such.

Moreover, the second piece on this set, Urban Crunch, almost sounds at first hearing as if it were an extension of the opening piece, not because it is so similar but because it strikes the ear as a development of Recipe for Improvisers. Here, however, both the initial tempo and the succeeding sections are at a much quicker pace—one might almost say, an Allegro movement to the opening’s Andante con moto. Here, the Levitt influence sounds less strong, but the influence of Mingus a bit more forceful. One also begins to notice one of the more enticing qualities of this band, its ability to work together in terms of tempo and accent. What I mean by this is that, as the soloists improvise, they shift the meter as they work around the changes, and the bass and drums move with them as if they were all one mind, going in the same musical direction at once. Is this solely the result of improvising or, perhaps, the result of having worked together as a unit to the point where they can read each others’ minds in terms of rhythmic placement? Whichever the answer is, the end reuslt is stunning. Golia’s baritone playing has a gutsy edge to it that I like very much—more of a Sahib Shihab or Pepper Adams influence than Gerry Mulligan—while his bass clarinet solos have a touch of Eric Dolphy about them, but not so much as to seem imitative.

With the third piece, Around the Fringes, we reach the first of three works on this disc that were “composed” via collective input. I got the distinct feeling that this piece, at least, took its cue from the opening rhythmic cell payed by Vlatkovich on trombone, to which the others add their joyful if somewhat quirky counterpoint. Here, the rhythm section seems to be working its own “thing” behind Halley’s tenor solo and not necessarily following his rhythmic patterns; Vlatkovich interjects detached staccato notes into the mix, at which time Halley starts to folow his lead, but a bit too late as the composition comes to a sudden halt at about the two-minute mark. Green Needles has a bit of soul-jazz feel to it, yet the pulse sounds irregular, as if the band were trying to deceive the listener with what sounds like a comfortable pulse when in fact it is not. Certainly, the rhythm section’s tempo shifts and occasional displacements keep things moving while pulling the listener a bit off here and here. Vlatkovich contributes a brilliant trombone solo played mostly in staccato notes, and within this solo are more rhythmic shifts in the form of dotted quarters and repeated eighths. By the time Halley comes in with his solo, the music has become so much a rhythmic jumble that it almost sounds like something that Michael Mantler or Arthur Blythe might have done. The gradually increading tempo brings things to a climax, following which is a moment of silence before the quirky original theme returns for the rideout. This is one strange piece!

Du Fu’s Stew, with its opening arco bass drone over which we hear cymbal washes and long-held notes by the sax and trombone, has a real Mingus feel to it. I find it heartening to hear so many jazz bands nowadays following Mingus’ lead in the way he constructed tunes and “led” his soloists through them. The almost excruciatingly slow pace continues as the theme playing ceases; more cymbal washes lead into Golia on bass clarinet while the others moan softly in the background, upon which he fades away to allow the leader some quadruple-time playing on tenor before coming back to put his two cents’ worth in here and there. There is a certain Oriental feel to this piece in the way the bassist and horns slide up and down chromatically in such a way as to almost create the feel of quarter-tones.

Long Blue Road, another collective piece, starts out medium tempo with pizzicato bass before becoming an uptempo jam. Here ther eis no ambiguity to the tempo—it’s a straight four all the way. Perhaps a tribute to Lew Tabackin and Toshiko Akiyoshi’s Long Yellow Road? It certainly has the sound of a Toshiko and Lew piece to my ears despite the use of the bass clarinet, an instrument one seldom heard in Toshiko’s bands. It’s nice to hear a fairly straightahead swinger amidst so much offbeat material. Rising From the Plains opens with tom-toms and an octave-leap motif reminiscent of Les Brown’s Leap Frog, but quickly morphs into something more complex and, I might say, a bit sinister in feel. Drummer Halley keeps up the tom-toms under Golia’s baritone solo, but now shifts the accents within the bars to diffuse the strong 4/4 feel. Golia becomes quite excited here, doubling the tempo, before the trombone enters, a bit calmer and more reasonable in demeanor. When Halley enters it is in double time, but now the mood has lightened and his solo almost sounds happy by comparison with what preceded it. Carson Halley follows with a rare drum solo (pretty much staying on the tom-toms), after which we get the ride-out.

The somewhat sinister mood continues in the third and last collective piece, The Way Through, and this is undoubtedly the most abstract piece on the album. Little scattered remnants, half-melodies and snippets of such, come and go as the band deftly wends its way through this slow-moving yet difficult abstract maze. What a tribute to the instinctive skills of these musicians that they are able to “put something together” out of this paleozoic “soup,” eventually morphing into a slow but equally ominous-sounding steady 4 for the last chorus. Reciprocity has, perhaps, the strangest rhyth of all the pieces on this set; it sounds like a 4 but the beat shifts are such that one never comes out right if one counts that time, despite the fact that the rhythm section plays the rhythm fairly strongly. Once we get into the solos, started by Golia on bass clarinet, the tempo (such as it is) is doubled, at least until he lets out a semi-strangulated scream in the upper register, at which point Vlatkovich enters with a trombone solo that sounds like someone sinking into quicksand as the tempo turns into slush beneath him. Then we get an almost fully suspended tempo as the leader solos on tenor, followed by a pause and then the coda played in the initial pulse.

We end our musical journey with The Nuthatches which, like the opening piece, has a sort of Rod Levitt feel to it. A rhythmic figure played on bass clarinet over the snare drum in a different rhythm set the tone for a “smeared” melodic figure played over both. This becomes the dominant feel for the piece even after the trombone re-enters, now playing a crisp, staccato improvisation over the snares and bass. Golia’s bass clarinet solo here is all “outside” playing, almost screaming in pain, as both he and the rhythm section double the tempo. Another drum solo by Chris Halley follows, turning just a bit into Gene Krupa before the leader enters on tenor, also playing outside solo lines.

The Outlier is a wild and fascinating album that will both challenge and impress you. I highly recommend it!

— © 2016 Lynn René Bayley

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